The Last of Us Pt. 9

What happened? I forgot, that’s what happened. As you can see below, I wrote this post on 4th June. And then forgot to publish it. So here it is now. Pt.9 is the penultimate post in this series. I will publish Pt. 10 later on.
Sunday, 4th June 2017

I played The Last of Us for over four hours today only to lose my progress at the end… as it seemed at the time (fortunately, it was not so).

Before that hiccup, Joel was seriously injured and I got to play as Ellie who met one of the most evil human characters in the game – David. Or, is he not so much evil as just desperate? The Last of Us is not just a challenging game in terms of surviving but also in regards the moral dilemmas that it throws up from time to time.

Read my tweets here

Credit Where It’s Due
Ellie Faces Off Against David: About Writing – The Personal Blog of Pace J Miller

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Inflowered

For the Introduction to this post, click here.

Next off the pile was the Spring 2017 edition of The PRS Review – the journal of the Pre-Raphaelite Society.

Based on the Contents page it was impossible to decide which article to read as none of them had titles. Among the choices, however, were the winner and runner-up of the John Pickard Essay Prize, so I opted for the former, by Julia Wyman.

Playing on the title of the well known Hugh Grant film, the essay is titled Four Flowers and A Funeral and it opens with a quotation from a letter by Vernon Lushington who attended Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s funeral. In it he describes four of the flowers that he saw in the churchyard – irises, wallflowers, laurustinus and lilac. The essay opens up the poetic meanings of these flowers, using them to come to a deeper understanding of Rossetti’s life and death.

Four Flowers and a Funeral is ten pages long; these include footnotes and a page long bibliography at the end. It was lovely being able to dip into the iconography of flowers again and I learnt a lot from Wyman’s text. For example, that in floriography the iris stands for ‘a message’ while the wallflower is ‘the symbol of a true heart’.

Of course, Wyman doesn’t talk about these flowers apart from Rossetti. In the context of his death, she says, the iris’ message was one ‘from beyond the grave’. From who? Who else but his late wife, Elizabeth Siddal. Rossetti painted her with iris’ in her hair once (Sancta Lilias 1874; see below). What she might have been saying to him now, though; who knows. All things considered it’s probably best that this conversation remains private.

I liked Wyman’s description of Rossetti as someone who was ‘psychologically dishevelled’ very much, but the In this essay I intend to… paragraph, in which she explains what the essay is about was less pleasing. These kinds of paragraph are the academic equivalent of telling instead of showing and are just as boring.

What made this example of it all the worse was that it came, not at the beginning of the essay, but four paragraphs in; in other words, just as I was settling into the showing. The effect was jarring and was like being kicked out of an experience so that someone could tell you about it instead. Who would want that?

I read Four Flowers and A Funeral in what felt like super quick time and, That Paragraph aside, enjoyed doing so. This was my second foray this year into the mythical/literary meanings of flowers (after The Plants of Middle-earth by Dinah Hazell) and I am once again grateful for the opportunity to dwell on such a delightful subject even if, in the case of this essay, the context was a sad one.

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A Magical Tale

65 Million copies sold

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho has certainly made an impact. And it’s not hard to see why. For it is a book about chasing your dreams. And dreams? Well, they are beloved of Men.

Some cultivate them, many let them lie fallow. But few ever forget them. We love dreams because they offer us a better us, a greater us, than we currently possess. That’s why, for most people, even when they aren’t thinking of their dreams, or believe the achievement of them to be impossible, they still don’t deny them.

Instead, they let their dreams rest in them like glowing embers so that, when time and space allows, they can – at the very least – blow the life of fantasy in them.

The Alchemist is a fantasy. There are no elves or orcs in it but some of the events that take place could never do so in the real world; at least, not in the way that Coelho portrays them.

But the story is also real. Ironically, it’s real in its unrealness, for it is real when it is allegorical because the allegory offers the reader a path to realising his own dream. Actually, it does more. The allegory gives the reader permission to believe; it encourages him to believe; and if the reader allows it, it may blow like a bellow on the embers of his dream.

I enjoyed reading the book. Unfortunately, I don’t quite have the praise for it that many others do. Not yet, anyway. What got in the way for me is the fact that the story is both a standard work of fiction and also an allegory. The two genres clashed with each other and that was off-putting. I would have much preferred to have read either a solid allegory or a piece of fiction that simply inspired me.

With that said, The Alchemist definitely has an elvish quality about it. It’s full of meaning, subtle, and a rather elusive tale. It can’t be pinned down. If you want to understand it, you’ll have to visit it again, and I suspect, again and again. And if you do that, who knows what adventure it will take you on.

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Old and New in the Mass of Ages

For the Introduction to this post, click here.

First off the pile is the Summer 2017 issue of Mass of Ages, the magazine of the Latin Mass Society. As you can see, left, it features a nice photograph of Bishop Athanasius Schneider on the cover but we will be ignoring him for three other articles that grabbed my attention.

  • Catholic film making
  • The Old Mass and the New Age
  • The last Habsburg Emperor

Of these three articles, only Catholic film making was a disappointment. However, this is only because I thought it would be about Catholicism in film in general whereas it is actually about the work of EWTN, the Catholic television station.

And to be sure, they are doing a very interesting work. EWTN has made several docudramas based upon the ‘Black Legend’ – events which fairly or otherwise besmirch the reputation of the Catholic Church; namely, The Crusades (in 2014) and The Inquisition (2016). To come is The Reformation, next year, which will focus on Martin Luther. This year, EWTN has taken a break from past controversies to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the appearance of the Blessed Virgin to three children in Fatima, Portugal.

In and of itself the article is a good one. Though very short, I still learnt that the Latin Mass Society co-produced one series on Wales the Golden Thread of Faith and that the docudramas on the Crusades won an award at a film festival in Poland.

***

The Old Mass and the New Age is a review of a book titled Cor Jesu Sacratissimum: From Secularism and the New Age to Christendom Renewed by Roger Buck. The article is written by Joseph Shaw, the president of the LMS. He describes how Buck, undertakes  ‘a thorough exploration of the New Age, its history and its character, from a Catholic perspective’. Buck speaks with authority as he used to be a part of the New Age movement before converting (or reverting?) to the Catholic faith. Where does the Old Mass come into it? Well, Buck offers it as the answer to what New Age adherents are looking for. Quoting the late Stratford Caldicott, Shaw says that New Agers desire ‘a transforming contact with mystery’ and that the Old Mass gives it to them. Specifically, the Old Mass; not the New; at least, not in its worst form of ‘pottery chalices, pedestrian prose, and bidding prayers about recycling’.

By and bye, I go to a Novus Ordo Mass every Sunday and have never seen a pottery chalice or heard bidding prayers about recycling. Shaw has got the pedestrian prose bang to rights, though.

The review didn’t make me want to rush out and buy Cor Jesu, but that’s only because the subject matter isn’t one that I have a particular interest in.

***

Finally, The Last Habsburg Emperor. This was my favourite article. Well, it is about a person from the past so that’s not a surprise! Specifically, it is a short biography of Emperor Charles of Austria-Hungary, who tried in vain to bring peace during the Great War. At its end, he was deposed and exiled. He died aged 34 in 1922 ‘uttering the Holy Name of Jesus’. Pope St. John Paul II beatified him in 2004.

As is to be expected, the article looks at Charles through the lens of the Catholic faith. Hence, the Great War allied leaders were ‘grizzled old anti-Christian secularists’; the Italians generals were ‘secularist’. George Clemenceau, ‘born a Protestant… could not be trusted’ and acted ‘deceitfully and treacherously’ towards Charles. We might ignore this obvious bias but I can’t help but think here of how Rudyard Kipling referred to the politicians of the war as being ‘old, cold, and of intolerable entrails.’ (quoting Shakespeare in The Merry Wives of Windsor).

From a Catholic perspective, the article is ultimately a heart warming one. For here is a man who suffered greatly but died faithful. From a more worldly perspective it offers nothing but tears for the quality – or lack thereof – of our leaders. Nothing has changed in a hundred years.

This issue of Mass of Ages can be read here

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Introductory

I am a member of several societies and every so often they send me their latest magazine or journal. And I’m afraid to say that every time they do, I put said magazine or journal onto the pile that I have yet to read.

And guess what, it has now become quite a big pile, and I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t thought of throwing each and every magazine and journal into the recycling and starting over again.

I would absolutely do that but it seems such a senseless action. I’m a member of that society for a reason, and I don’t want to be the kind of person who forgets their love for the person, group or cause, who buys membership of something and then does nothing with it. Besides, the writers will have worked so hard on their articles and surely deserve to be read.

The fact is, though, the pile has got too big and I will never have the time to read every magazine or journal from page to page.

In light of that, I’ve decided to pursue a middle course. I’m going to work my way through the pile, magazine by magazine, journal by journal; I’m going to open each one and read perhaps just one article in each – more if there are several that look to be of special interest. Then, and only then, will I be dispose of the magazine or journal.

And as I have a blog, I’ll mention any articles of interest here in case what I have read speaks to anyone else. That way, I hope, we all win.

Here is the pile. Let’s start reading!

 

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All Four Recommended

A while ago, and for too brief a time, I really enjoyed listening to a few podcasts while I worked. I stopped listening to them because I one part fell out of love with them and one part Never Got Round To Listening To The Next One. But they were good podcasts and I think if I am going to stop listening to any of them I’d like it to be because they no longer speak to me rather than because of impatience or laziness.

So, last week I started again. Here’s what I listened to:

Wednesday
The Prancing Pony Podcast. American.
Two guys chatting their way through Tolkien’s Middle-Earth stories, or at least, The Silmarillion. I rejoined them at Episode 46 – the first of a two parter on The Akallabêth – Tolkien’s version of the Atlantis myth.

What I like most about The Prancing Pony Podcast is the hosts’ enthusiasm for their subject – it shines out – and their readings of the text; they handled Tolkien’s sonorous prose really well. Episode 46 had a few interesting insights (my favourite being a comparison of the phial of Galadriel and the Two Trees of Valinor) but I didn’t come away from it thinking I had learnt so very much about The Akallabêth. That was fine, though, as the podcast’s strength – for me, anyway, lies in its conversational tone and hosts’ enthusiasm: in their just being there while I am doing a boring job.

What did I like less about The Prancing Pony Podcast? This is a real challenge as the answer is I did not like their dumb humour so much. The problem is that when it comes to Tolkien, I love his books so much I only ever want to hear a serious discussion about them. As a result, I get impatient if the speakers waste time being silly or even make jokes about the text.

LECTOR: You need to lighten up, MJM.
Yes, reader, I do, so I am determined to keep listening to The Prancing Pony and, whenever the two guys (whose names, I might as well tell you, are Alan Sisto and Shawn E. Marchese) start cracking jokes, remind myself that (a) they love Tolkien’s books as much as I do and (b) it’s good to share a joke or three sometimes. Stop being so serious.

Thursday I
Talking Tolkien. American.
It took me to the last paragraph above to name the hosts of The Prancing Pony Podcast so I will do so right at the outset here. It has three hosts. Or, two hosts and one hostess, if you like: Chase, Jonathan and Katie. It is likely that they have surnames but as they aren’t used in their bios on the Talking Tolkien website I shan’t scramble around to try and find them for here.

Anyway, like PP, TT takes a conversational look at JRRT’s M-e books. Previously, I started listening to the podcast at the start of their walk-through of The Lord of the Rings so I picked it up with the next episode: Part 5 Concerning Tom Bombadils.

Now, I have to admit, Talking Tolkien fell out of favour with me before due to the same ‘fault’ that I found with The Prancing Pony. I am resuming listening for the same reason as above.

What is good about Talking Tolkien? Well, just that it is a good, friendly, discussion about Tolkien. That’s all, and what more could one want? The personalities of the three podcasters comes across very strongly in this series. Chase doesn’t have a beard (according to the photograph on the TT website) but when I listen to it I imagine him to have one, and to be a Hagrid sized man who OOOHs and AHHHs a lot when he is told something that surprises him. Jonathan is more professorial although he can be very silly-in-a-mostly-good-way. Katie at the moment is just Katie. I shall try and invent an image for her next week.

Is there anything apart from the humour issue that I didn’t like about Talking Tolkien? No.

Thursday II
As We Like It. Two Thirds Canadian/One Third American.
This podcast series – hosted by the above mentioned Jonathan, and Mark and Aven – focusses on films based on or inspired by Shakespeare’s plays. I have great respect for As We Like It as it is through this podcast that I discovered My Own Private Idaho last year. I watched the film after hearing J, M & A discuss it and loved it immediately. I must watch it again.

On Thursday, I listened to them discuss Charlton Heston’s adaptation of Antony and Cleopatra. Unfortunately, the film did not meet with their approval. Among its problems were that it cut a lot of the play – including most or nearly all of Cleopatra’s lines – out and that Heston did not convince as Antony. To be sure, they did not regard the film as a disaster but neither was it that good. A shame. It would have been good to have come back to As We Like It with a film that had me rushing for iTunes movies in the evening but you can’t win ’em all.

So, what was good about As We Like It? The hosts were all very knowledgeable. Actually in this episode, Mark felt like he was in the margins a bit – perhaps he didn’t have much to say – but Jonathan and Aven carried the conversation well. They definitely know their William S.

Anything not so good? I think Jonathan was using a cheap microphone as he sounded quite echoey but it wasn’t off putting. In terms of the content of the podcast, only the film was not up to much.

Friday
In Our Time. British.
From 2015 – Melvyn Bragg discussing Alexander the Great with Paul Cartledge, Diana Spencer and Rachel Mairs.

Before listening to this episode of In Our Time, I had heard of Paul Cartledge. I had even seen him give a talk at the Hellenic Centre in London, once; he was promoting one of his books, copies of which he kindly signed for sundry people, including myself, afterwards. His talk was very knowledgeable and he was very friendly.
Before the podcast I think I had heard of Diana Spencer but I can’t remember in what capacity. I wonder if I have one of her books and haven’t read it?
Unfortunately, I had not heard of Rachel Mairs. I must look her up. With any luck she’ll be on Twitter.

The best thing about this podcast was obviously that here were people discussing Alexander!!! What more could one want? That aside, despite the fact that here were three academics talking about Alexander the content of the show was, in a sense, quite ‘shallow’. This is not a criticism of Cartledge, Spencer and Mairs. I suspect it came about because this was a programme for the general public whose knowledge of Alexander will be slight to non-existent rather than people like me who know his story inside out and (almost, in my case) back to front.

The best moment of the podcast was Cartledge discussing the mass weddings at Susa (324 BC) when, he said, Alexander had an insight (i.e regarding the dignity of the Persians) that no one had ever had before. If Paul Cartledge was Doctor Who he might at that point have regenerated into W. W. Tarn (ha ha. Sorry. In joke) but he did not go so far as to say that Alexander believed in the Unity of Mankind.

The worst moments of the podcast came with Melvyn Bragg once or twice sounding a bit bored or impatient. Perhaps he was having a bad day. He was not rude, or anything like that, so it didn’t detract from the fun of listening to the podcast.

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My Age of Anxiety – Scott Stossel

I was up at 4:30am this morning for Lauds, breakfast and reading. After the first two of these three, I did my twenty minutes with Old Thunder, My Age of Anxiety, and Into the Land of Bones.

4:30am, by the way; it explains why at 8:43pm I am now drinking tea to keep myself awake long enough to write this!

As Land of Bones concerns Alexander the Great I will be talking about it over on my Alexander blog and, as it happens, have already written my first post. You can find it here.

Old Thunder was enlivened by a surprise ‘appearance’ by Gertrude Bell but in this post I’d like to tell you about My Age of Anxiety: I finished it! Hurrah!

If you would like to know about anxiety, what it is, how it can be treated, what are its symptoms and roots, what is its history and much else besides then this book is absolutely essential. It is a comprehensive and really great work.

It’s strength is also its poignancy for Scott Stossel does not speak as a disinterested author, or doctor, but as someone who has suffered from anxiety his whole life.

He has probably taken more drugs than Aerosmith and Guns N Roses combined, drunk a fair amount of their joint alcohol intake as well, and been in therapy for longer than a lifer has been in jail.

And he doesn’t just speak as someone who suffers from anxiety but places his story dead centre of the book. Read this book and you will come away not just with an increased understanding of anxiety and its background but of the human pain it causes. Along the way you may share Stossel’s frustration with his condition but by the end your love for him in his suffering and bravery will overcome all that.

My Age of Anxiety is a difficult book but never an impossible one. It is a mighty work and I had better stop there in case I start writing in verse. 9/10. Yes, nine. I would give it a 10 but no book is perfect and I’ve probably embarrassed Stossel enough with my praise.

Credit Where It’s Due
My Age of Anxiety book cover: Wellcome BookPrize

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